I grew up in a Navy family, which meant that when I was a kid, my dad was often away from home while his ship was on a cruise. Fortunately, dad spent only one Christmas out at sea- the Christmas of ’73. I remember my mom and the other ship’s wives putting together a huge care package of cookies and other goodies they hoped could be delivered to the ship by Christmas. It wasn’t a guarantee that it could happen. But I remember how happy everyone was to learn that, in spite of rough seas, a helicopter delivered the crate on Christmas day itself.
Receiving that care package meant a lot to my dad and his shipmates. If you’ve ever been away from home- at summer camp, school, the military, Peace Corps, whatever- you know how wonderful it is to receive a care package. It’s a little bit of home we can enjoy while we’re away from home, sent by those who love us.
Today- Corpus Christi Sunday- or more properly, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ- is a day we celebrate God’s gift of the Eucharist: a gift we might think of as a care package from God. You and I are far from home, because Scripture tells us that our true home is in heaven. In the Eucharist, however, our loving God gives us a little taste of our heavenly homeland, so we can begin to experience what it will be like.
Consider what Jesus said in today’s gospel. He spoke of a “living bread come down from heaven.” This heavenly bread is the Eucharist; it’s bread from our true home. But this bread is more than just bread. Jesus explained that those who eat it will live forever. So not only does this bread come from heaven. It also allows us, even now, to begin to enjoy the eternal life promised us in heaven.
Of course, there’s a danger in equating the Eucharist with a care package. There’s a big difference between heavenly bread and homemade cookies. We don’t want to risk minimizing the importance of the Eucharist or misunderstanding what it is. So maybe we should consider another analogy.
Many of you know that I’m a runner. As a runner, I’ve learned that what I eat, and when I eat it, is critically important. To begin with, runners need carbs for fuel. You’ve probably heard of runners “carbo-loading” on pasta in the days leading up to a long race. In addition, it’s also important that runners eat during a long race- typically little energy gels or beans which pack carbs, electrolytes, and even caffeine. Also, it’s important to eat right after a race for muscle recovery- typically a bagel and a banana. In short, to run well, one needs to eat well- before, during, and after a race. Because if you don’t, you’ll slow down, conk out, or get hurt.
St. Paul tells us that our spiritual life is something like a race- an endurance run in which we need to persevere and keep our eyes on our heavenly goal. “Run in such a way as to get the prize,” Paul told the Corinthian church. In this race, just like in road running, we need to eat well in order to run well. And the food we need for this spiritual journey is the Eucharist.
But what sort of nourishment does the Eucharist give us for our journey? We already know that it gives us a taste of heaven. But it gives more than that. In today’s gospel, Jesus said: “I am the bread from heaven.” This bread is Jesus! Or more precisely, at Mass bread becomes Jesus. It doesn’t simply remind us of Jesus; nor is it merely symbolic of Jesus. It is Jesus: His “body, blood, soul, and divinity.”
During televised coverage of the Pope’s Mass at National Stadium a few years ago, one obviously non-Catholic commentator said: “This is when the bread is ‘transmorgified’ into Jesus.” Now, you can read the Catechism from cover to cover and not find anything about “transmorgification.” What you can read about, however, is “transubstantiation.” It’s a fancy Catholic word loaded with philosophy. At its heart, however, transubstantiation means that something becomes something else while continuing to look the same. In our case, bread becomes Jesus. It may still taste like bread. But what it nourishes us with is the very life of God. And it is life that we need, more than anything, as we continue our spiritual journey.
We ask for this whenever we pray the Our Father and say: “Give us this day our daily bread.” With these words, we aren’t just asking that God provide us with essential things like food, clothing, and shelter. The word we translate as “daily” is a rare Greek word found nowhere else in the Bible. It’s means “super-essential” or “more than essential.” And it refers to the bread-become-Jesus in the Eucharist.
It’s good that we think of the Eucharist as “daily bread” because we need the nourishment it gives us in our daily lives. We need Jesus. And there’s no better way to meet him, and receive him, than in the Eucharist. That’s why daily Mass has become an important part of Catholic spirituality. Every one of the 140 parish churches in the Archdiocese of Washington has a Mass celebrated every day. Some churches in business areas offer Mass at Noon, to accommodate the lunchtime crowd. And other churches have Masses in the late afternoon to catch folks coming home from work.
It’s not possible for most of us to attend Mass each day. But we can make it a Sunday priority, and try to come as often as we can, so we can enjoy God’s care package of love, and have the fuel we need to run our race until we finally arrive at our heavenly home.
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062611.shtml